Most policymakers agree there is a shortage of affordable housing in New Hampshire, but they disagree on how to solve the problem.
Federal, state, and local governments are all involved in affordable housing initiatives.
Some initiatives, such as the federal Section 8 voucher program, provide low income individuals directly with money to pay for rent.
Other initiatives try to indirectly influence the housing market, for example by removing regulations that favor large single-family homes.
Housing vouchers and other rental assistance
The federal government provides rental assistance directly to some low income families, people with disabilities, veterans, and seniors. The most well-known rental assistance program is Section 8, which provides individuals with a voucher to rent a property.
The state government also has an Emergency Assistance Program that helps pay for housing costs if a person is in danger of becoming homeless or having utilities cut off.
These programs are challenged by limited funds, however. Thousands of people are on the waitlist for Section 8 in New Hampshire, and many must wait for years.
Opponents of direct rental assistance also argue that these welfare programs do not empower people to become self-sufficient.
Tax credits and other homebuyer assistance
For residents with steady income ready to purchase a home, there are public programs that provide mortgages, loans for renovations, and tax credits.
In 2018 the state Legislature considered decreasing the real estate transfer tax for first-time homebuyers, but legislators argued the impact on buyers (a savings of $250 per $100,000) was not worth the loss of state revenue.
Assistance for affordable housing developers
Developers interested in building affordable housing have access to low cost loans and grants at the state, local, and federal levels.
In particular, the state Affordable Housing Fund provides low-interest loans and grants for the construction, rehabilitation, and/or acquisition of affordable housing. The state last sent money to this fund in the 2015/2016 budget cycle - $2.8 million, with $2 million specifically targeted to housing for individuals in recovery from substance misuse disorder.
Sen. Jeb Bradley has requested a 2019 bill to send more money to the Affordable Housing Fund. His proposal will be considered as part of this year’s budget process.
Workforce housing and other zoning laws
In 2008 New Hampshire passed a law that requires towns and cities to “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing, including rental multi-family housing.” This workforce housing law gave municipalities flexibility. Some towns give incentives for developers who dedicate a share of a development to workforce housing. Other towns have a process to waive local regulations that increase costs for workforce housing development.
In 2015 the state Legislature also passed a bill that requires municipalities to allow some accessory dwelling units, such as guest houses, which may be used by young adults or aging family members.
However, some affordable housing advocates argue there are still too many zoning laws and regulations blocking affordable housing development.
In 2018 the Legislature studied the idea of a statewide housing appeals board, which would offer an expedited process for developers to appeal local decisions. After a positive recommendation from that study, Rep. Lynne Ober (R-Hudson) is sponsoring 2019 bill HB 104 to establish the board.
What do you think is the best route to increase affordable housing in New Hampshire? Direct financial assistance to renters, homebuyers, and/or developers, or different zoning and regulations? Share your thoughts in the comments below.